Former Wrestlers Making Mark in International Fight League
8/1/2007 12:30:00 PM
Many former wrestlers are succeeding in the team-based IFL. With the post-season upon us, here is a profile of some of the key competitors and a semifinal preview. Also, find out which former wrestler claims to have defeated John Smith in an exhibition match, and read some interesting quotes from other former wrestlers and IFL competitors
Jeremy O?Kasick - TWM Freelance Writer
In 2006, the IFL highlighted a superfight between two Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) legends who also happen to be longtime friends - Pat Miletich and Renzo Gracie.
Gracie, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, submitted the Iowa grappler and superstar coach, with a standing guillotine choke at 3:38 in the first round. For this season?s team finals, many MMA insiders and fans expect a rematch. But this time the retired fighters will go head to head from outside of the ring as second-year head coaches. This story sponsored by:
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Miletich?s squad, the Quad Cities Silverbacks, actually took home the first-ever IFL team title last season. This year, they have a 2-1 record and will now have a chance to redeem themselves against the only team that beat them earlier, the LA Anacondas, in the IFL semifinals Thursday, August 2 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (The semifinals other showdown that night will pit the New York Pitbulls against the Tokyo Sabres.)
Both the Silverbacks and the Pitbulls, as coached by Gracie, are favored to pass the semifinal test and go against each other in the team finals September 20 in Hollywood, Florida.
The returning champion Silverbacks will take on a depleted LA squad. The Anacondas are 3-0 as team, winning a league-leading 11 of their 15 individual matches this season. But they will be lacking two of their star fighters who are injured, the No. 2-ranked lightweight, Chris Horodecki, who is undefeated in the IFL and in his MMA career, and the No. 3-ranked welterweight, Jay Hieron, a former collegiate wrestler.
Forced to use back-up fighters and perhaps juggle the lineup, LA has gone from the league?s top dogs to a dark horse to get past the semis. After all, the Silverbacks have two fighters with more than 25 wins in their MMA careers and a combined 14-1 record in the IFL over two seasons: No. 1-ranked heavyweight, Ben Rothwell, and No. 3-ranked lightweight, Bart Palaszewksi. The Silverbacks? other three fighters have double-digit numbers of wins in their careers, and they can all more than hold their own. The Quad Cities? welterweight Rory Markham has a 5-1 IFL record with 5 knockouts.
As for the Pitbulls, they have gone an undefeated 3-0, winning 10 of their 15 individual matches without any real stars besides the No. 1-ranked welterweight, Delson Heleno. Other supporters, such as light heavyweight, Jamal Patterson, a former high school All-American wrestler, have stepped it up to give the Pitbulls a shot at the team title.
According to Antonio McKee, the Sabres have been their own worst enemy this season. He said the squad?s superb athletes have been hindered by a lack of coaching, and he did not fall short of criticizing head coach, Ken Yasuda, directly.
Renzo Gracie, a longtime standout in MMA competition, is now a well-respected coach of the IFL?s New York Pitbulls
?This team is not coached by Ken Yasuda,? said McKee. ?He is not even a fighter. He just shows up for the fights and the photos to show off his biceps. We are not the Tokyo Sabres either. Everybody here is coming from South Central in LA.?
McKee said that over half the team trains at his Body Shop gym in Lakewood, California. With a 20-3-2 overall MMA record and No. 2 welterweight ranking in the IFL, he certainly has the experience and superior skills of a MMA veteran, as does the No. 1-ranked light heavyweight, Vladimir Matyushenko (18-3). Don?t count the Sabres out against the Pitbulls this Thursday, as inter-squad dissension does not always transfer into in the ring.
For more IFL news and previews, check out the league?s website at www.ifl.tv.
IFL Coming of Age
While Antonio McKee might have issues with his coach staff, he has found a new home he loves in the IFL.
The first team-based league in MMA, the International Fight League has come of age in its second season as a fully-fledged publicly traded company with 12 teams and more franchises across the world on the horizon. You can now catch fights aired as part of the program, IFL Battleground, on Fox Sports Network almost any given day.
Besides the intriguing team format, the IFL has also added an end-of-the-season individual tournament, the IFL Grand Prix, to determine the best overall fighters in each of the five weight divisions. Many events also highlight a Superfight between two MMA superstars outside of the teams and league.
Some MMA fans have criticized the IFL, calling it UFC or PRIDE light. The league does have shorter rounds than most leagues with three at 4:00 minutes each, and it does have its own set of rules that limit elbow strikes. The IFL also does not have rosters of superstars, who would be impossible to finance for multiple fights per year. Instead, the league has a mix of young fighters and veterans, who might have impressive careers, but who never fully broke through the pay-per-view fighting threshold to make big money. (A large percentage of the IFL rosters have fighters with wrestling backgrounds.)
?The IFL is not the most lucrative shows for fighters. But it is the best for young fighters in terms of integrity, learning opportunities, and exposure,? said McKee. ?There are some up and coming champions here. It is about regular guys who find a way to fight for a living.?
Fighters are paid on a monthly basis with stipends for fights and wins ? their medical insurance is also provided by the IFL. For the 37-year-old McKee, the league has given him a new shot to both continue his solid career and to mentor younger fighters. He is 3-0 in the IFL, and he has not lost a MMA bout since a decision loss to UFC standout, Karo Parisyan, more than four years ago.
Besides competing for the Sabres in the semifinals, McKee will face the Anacondas Jay Hieron in the semifinals of the Grand Prix individual tournament November 30.
Pat Miletich is widely regarded as one of the top trainers and coaches in the sport of MMA. He is currently the head coach of the IFL?s Quad City Silverbacks
From Wiseguy to Wise Warrior
McKee has an on-the-street to on-the-mat life story. Growing up in South Central, Los Angeles, he said that wrestling rescued him from a life of street brawling and trouble.
He joined his school wrestling team and never looked back. McKee won two California state titles in two undefeated seasons in high school, and went on to wrestle at Cerrito Community College in the NJCAA. He claimed to have beaten John Smith in an exhibition match early in his career.
?When you have wrestled all your life, it never leaves you,? said McKee. ?Wrestling saved me from the streets. Then, I went to training with the Gracies in LA. I didn?t even know who these guys were and I went against all of them in practice. I would score takedowns and feel like I was dominating these guys and then I?d get caught in a triangle choke or an armbar. I was hooked. I had to get better.?
Perhaps it is not surprising that current UFC light heavyweight champion, Quinton ?Rampage? Jackson, has long trained at McKee?s gym in Lakewood. McKee has also reinvested in his talents in his community with a non-profit, Fight for Kids, that assists inner-city youth to compete in such sports as wrestling and to focus on their education. McKee said that he is thrilled to coach inner-city kids in wrestling, and he has had several wrestlers go on to state, national, and international success.
Is a future in coaching wrestling and MMA in his cards?
?At my age, you take each day as a blessing just to be able to get up in the morning and still move around,? he said. ?I will deal with the next step when I need to cross it.?
From Veteran to Sophomore
Unlike McKee, Erik Owings never fought a MMA bout before joining the IFL. The New York Pitbulls lightweight said he started training in wrestling in high school, and moved on to jiu-jitsu. He even lived in Brazil for a stretch, and he speaks fluent Portuguese.
Now he happens to be trained by a jiu-jitsu master in Pitbulls coach, Renzo Gracie.
Many former wrestlers now compete in MMA and in the IFL. The IFL and USA Wrestling formed a partnership and the IFL has put on exhibitions at USA Team Trials.
?I can?t say anything but great things about Renzo Gracie,? he said. ?Besides all of his expertise and qualities as a fighter and a coach, he is just a good person. I would be a friend of his no matter what. He treats all as equals.?
Owings added that the team aspect of the IFL certainly does add some drama for the fans, and a new training and motivation for the fighters. (Currently, teams score just a single point per victory with no extra points awarded for knockouts or submissions.) Owings compares the duality of a team-individual contest to collegiate and high school wrestling.
?Any fighter needs to be honest. If you?re team is down 0-4, you?re still going to go out there and fight hard,? he said. ?But just like wrestling, it becomes a team sport. You might not risk losing a match in going for a knockout just as you wouldn?t do that in trying to go for a pin for the team in wrestling.?
The IFL teamed up with USA Wrestling earlier this year and put on exhibitions and seminars at the USA Freestyle and Greco-Roman Team Trials. With a newfound fan base among wrestling fanatics, the IFL certainly has made some gains in the MMA market ? even if it is overshadowed by the UFC?s dominance.
?The IFL is still going to experience growth,? said Owings. ?Just because you are not Microsoft doesn?t mean that you cannot start your own software company and create excitement and make a profit. To try and compete against the UFC would be stupid. It would be like Guam going against the US Army. There is no point with the kind of revenue they have and their hold on the market.?
?The IFL can do their own thing and still have their own fans and take off.?
Jeremy O?Kasick receives feedback on his articles at firstname.lastname@example.org